By the end of Saturday Night Live’s first season a palpable sense of exhaustion had set in. Spring fever had swept the cast and crew. The Not Ready For Prime Time Players were like kids on the last day of school, counting down every last tick of the clock. It didn’t help that hosts like Kris Kristofferson were clearly drunk off their ass or battling bizarre personal demons (Louise Lasser, cough, cough).
The exact opposite seems to be happening as season three comes to a close. The show is gaining energy and momentum instead of lurching unsteadily to the finish line. Last week’s Steve Martin-hosted episode was one of the best in the show’s distinguished run. While not quite in the same ballpark, today’s episode was rock-solid as well.
The episode began with a very strange, conceptual bit that traced the curious, circuitous journey of a shipment of marijuana over the border and all around the United States until a Paraquet-laced joint is climactically passed from a black musician to a young actor (that would be li’l Billy Murray), who takes a hit, then kicks the show off proper.
The host is Richard Dreyfuss, fresh off his Academy Award win for Goodbye Girl. Dreyfuss strides onstage in frilly Shakespearean garb, Oscar in hand, to prove that he deserved to win over Richard Burton by performing Hamlet’s soliloquy, only to be heckled enthusiastically by John Belushi. It was a dynamic that would reappear throughout the show: the slobs in the Not Ready For Primetime Players antagonizing cranky, uptight Richard Dreyfuss. It almost felt like a dry run for What About Bob?
Dreyfuss’ aborted attempt to prove his Shakespearean chops is followed by the inevitable pairing of Richard Dreyfuss’ alien-obsessed weirdo from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and The Coneheads. Mild amusement ensues. It was a little on the hacktastic side but carried off with aplomb. Aplomb!
Then came Jimmy Buffet and his soothingly bland brand of sleepy musical escapism. I know people here at the A.V Club are crazy about Jimmy Buffet but to me he’s nothing more than the poor man’s Coconut Pete. Now there is a musician.
On “Weekend Update” ice queen Jane Curtin vows not to lose her cool and lash out in WASPy rage at her fellow correspondents. Critic Bill Murray, Gilda Radners’ Roseanne Roseannadanna and fellow anchor Dan Aykroyd all test her resolve before she lashes out by once again ripping open her shirt in a fit of furious anger. It was a curiously redundant conclusion (how did “Jane Curtin tears off shirt, Hulk-style, to reveal bra” become a default gag?) to an otherwise well-executed bit.
We were next treated to one of the best Nick The Lounge Singer sketches, with Murray favoring us with exquisitely tacky renditions of “Love To Love You Baby”, the theme from Close Encounters of The Third Kind and even a little “Havana Negila” for the benefit of a mortified Jewish music-biz shark played by Dreyfuss.
I’ve always found Paul Schaffer to be a very underrated figure. His chemistry with Murray, musically and comically, is a big part of what makes the Nick sketches work. He’s a great foil to Murray, just as he would later become a great foil to David Letterman. To me he is the gold standard for late night talk show band leaders. Who cares if he appears to be stoned most of the time?
Then Dreyfuss and Laraine Newman took center stage for what I like to call Second City sketches: long, character-based pieces that rely on wry observations on human nature and the intricacies of relationships more than gags or jokes. These pieces tend be poignant and well-acted but not terribly funny.
That thankfully wasn’t the case this time around. It was both beautifully observed and funny. Dreyfuss and Newman play a couple who have been together long enough to find each other’s quirks and eccentricities—the fussy, self-conscious care Dreyfus puts into rolling a joint for example—deeply annoying, if not downright intolerable. They clearly hate each on some level but isn’t that a rather depressing sign of love as well?
In a veritable repeat of last week’s sketch where John Belushi and Jane Curtin played a bored middle-aged couple that pretends to have affairs as elaborate foreplay, this piece ended with fucking as well. Seething hatred and mutual contempt turns out to be quite the aphrodisiac.
It was followed by one of Saturday Night Live’s most enduring tropes: recurring characters who are joined by family members who look and behave exactly like them. In this case it was a Mother’s Day David Susskind special where he talks to Henry Kissinger, Tom Snyder, Leon Spinks and their respective mothers, all of whom, in a not so surprising non-twist, behave exactly the same way as their famous sons. It was pure Pop Culture Comedy 101 yet it was funny all the same.
I could be wrong, and often am, but I think today’s episode marked the debut of Don Novello’s Father Guido Sarducci, Vatican gossip columnist. What a debut it was. Sarducci offered a rambling, very funny monologue about sin, the inter-workings of the Church and the elaborate point system of the afterlife. Apparently everyone makes a certain amount of money for each day they’re alive (being alive is apparently a job that merits compensation) and has money deducted for each sin. Masturbation is a sin but a very minor one with only a 35 cent penalty but oh boy do those fines add up.
Guido Sarducci represents the very humane, approachable face of the Church. His God is not one of fire, brimstone and righteous vengeance but rather an affable deity probably willing to let a whole lot slide. It’s a brilliant take on a well-worn satirical target.
The show concluded with a pair of songs: some guy named Gary Tigerman singing “White Oaxacan Moon” and Dreyfuss doing a very charming, very random rendition of “I Want To Be Seduced”. Yes, the season is roaring to a close. Next week marks the end and who better to usher us out of another stellar SNL season than dependable old Buck Henry?
—Sorry no clips this time. I left the disc at home. No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That is easily the biggest TV Club related fuck-up I’ve committed in the last twenty four hours or so.